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People v. Sivertson

New York Court of Appeals

June 1, 2017

The People & c., Respondent,
Shawn J. Sivertson, Appellant.

          Timothy P. Murphy, for appellant.

          Ashley R. Lowry, for respondent.


         The order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed. The conclusion that the warrantless entry by police into defendant's home was justified by exigent circumstances is a mixed question of law and fact. Where, as here, there is support in the record for the Appellate Division's conclusion, the issue is beyond our further review (see People v Gibson, 24 N.Y.3d 1125, 1126 [2015]; People v Brown, 95 N.Y.2d 942, 943 [2000]; People v Hallman, 92 N.Y.2d 840, 842 [1998]). "The rule applies 'where the facts are disputed... or where reasonable minds may differ as to the inference to be drawn [from the established facts]'" (People v Harrison, 57 N.Y.2d 470, 477 [1982], quoting People v McRay, 51 N.Y.2d 594, 601 [1980]). The dissent's conclusion to the contrary is based on a narrative derived from the suppression hearing record that unduly emphasizes the testimony and resulting inferences that are favorable to defendant.

         Defendant's remaining contention is without merit.

          RIVERA, J. (dissenting):

         As a matter of law, there is no record evidence to support the trial court's ruling that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry into defendant's home [1]. Therefore, the Appellate Division should be reversed and a new trial ordered. I dissent.


         Defendant was charged with one count of robbery in the first degree for stealing a few dollars from a donation jar inside a convenience store located near the University of Buffalo campus. According to the testimony at the hearing on defendant's suppression motion, 15 to 20 officers from the Buffalo Police Department, Niagara Frontier Transit Authority, and the University of Buffalo security force responded after a store employee made a 911 call to report that a robbery had just occurred. Based on images from the in-store surveillance video and statements from two employees who interacted with the robber, the officers developed a description of a white male in his 50s, who was armed with a small knife and was wearing a coat, gloves, and a scarf.

         The store manager also told the officers that she had chased the robber across the street and through an alleyway before she lost track of him. Several officers fanned out and conducted a search of the area, but did not locate the robber.

         Meanwhile, back at the store, two people told one of the officers that earlier in the day they had seen someone who fit the description of the robber sitting on the stoop of a building across the street from the store. Buffalo Police Officer Mayhook then went to that building and spoke with a man, who told him that the person sitting on the stoop had recently moved into a rear apartment in the building.

         Based on this information, several officers surrounded the building. As they approached, they noticed a door on one side of the rear apartment and two closed windows on the other. The lights were on inside, and they could look directly through the windows at defendant, who they observed alone and lying in bed watching television. They described the apartment as very small, approximately 500 square feet in size, and so compact that one officer could see a pair of gloves on the kitchen table that looked like the gloves worn by the robber.

         The officers knocked on the door and window for approximately ten minutes, yelling for defendant to "show your hands and come out." Defendant made eye contact with the officers peering in his window, then rolled over and closed his eyes. One officer said that from his view it appeared defendant was in a "stupor." Upon authorization from Officer Mayhook, several officers forced open the door, pulled defendant out of bed, and handcuffed him. Once inside, the officers seized a black knit hat, gloves, three small knives from the kitchen counter, and a scarf and jacket.

         Officer Mayhook testified that he was at the door, but did not personally witness the defendant's actions or look inside the apartment prior to giving the order to enter. He based his decision to enter without a warrant on the other officers' observations of defendant as relayed to him, which he testified consisted of defendant matching the robber's description, as well as the fact that the officers were unaware if defendant was alone, if defendant could access other parts of the building, or if there were other weapons in the apartment. Officer Mayhook further testified that when he gave the order he knew the officers were armed and had surrounded the building, and that defendant was not threatening anyone.

         The court partially denied defendant's suppression motion, concluding that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry and that items in plain view were properly seized. However, the court granted the motion as to the jacket and scarf, finding ...

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